Game of the Year 2021 – Best Gameplay

Gameplay is such a dumb term when you stop to think about it. The closest equivalent I can come up with is umami or ‘mouthfeel’ when eating food, so do we need to start saying things like ‘filmwatch’ and ‘bookread’ to describe the sensations you get from trips to the cinema and cosy nights spend with a novel? I hope not.

Still, it’s that indescribable gameplay that we, as game critics, have to constantly try to describe and define when talking about this pastime of ours. Great gameplay is often such a fundamental element that it can overcome weaknesses elsewhere in a game’s design; it’s the beating heart of so many experiences, and that’s something that’s so true of our winner in this category.

GOTY 2021 Best Gameplay Winner

It Takes Two is the video game equivalent of a six year old writing about what they did for their summer holidays. First I fought off some wasps with this great big gloop gun, and then I had to fly a plane and shoot down other planes, and then I had to fight a squirrel, and then I had to fight a hoover, and then later on I went skiing with magnets, and there was also this minigame where I had to shoot balloons to win, and then, and then, and then…

It’s built on the fundamentals of an action platformer, but it’s constantly twisting and turning in your hands, wriggling to get free from one gaming idea, from one genre and on to the next one. It’s exhilarating to see it switching gears and taking Cody and May to new and inventive place on their journey of rediscovery, and each one comes with new co-op gameplay that forces you to team up and work with your partner in split-screen co-op.

We can’t wait to see what Hazelight cook up for their next adventure.

– Stefan L

Returnal – Runner Up

The masters of the arcade shooter shifted up several gears with Returnal. It’s still built around the bullet hell gameplay that Housemarque perfected so many years ago, but everything else about this game was a step into the unknown for the studio. Third person shooting, a roguelike structure, feeding a meaningful narrative into that subgenre, and venturing onto a brand new console? A series of tall tasks to overcome.

Yet Returnal pulls it off with aplomb, and it really comes back to that core blend of third person shooting with bullet hell arcade action. The guns feel impactful (helped by the DualSense controller), the enemies are tricky, the boss fights varied and epic. It’s easily up there as one of the best PS5 games of the year.

– Stefan L

Fights in Tight Spaces – Runner Up

Fights in Tight Spaces came out of nowhere and flipped the roguelike deck-building genre on its head, with it’s fresh take and stunning visuals. Beautiful silhouetted individuals do battle in small spaces, maneuvers defined by the cards you play from your combat deck.

As the Agent, it’s your responsibility to take down five major criminal empires with a variety of punches, kicks, throws and slams, all while trying to survive. It’s also one of the most addictive roguelikes I’ve had the pleasure of playing. If I, someone who doesn’t get on well with roguelikes, can get on with it, then Fights in Tight Spaces has proven itself as a massive success.

– Nick P

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order)

To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!

What games really got your juices flowing just for how they feel to actually play? Let us know in the comments below.

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